A cynical experience of Notting Hill Carnival

Josh Shreeve /
Aug 31, 2016 / Opinion

August bank holiday weekend is arguably the hottest spot in festival calendar. Whilst 2016 won’t go down as the most sizzling to date, once again the UK offered up Reading and Leeds for kids wanting to shake off their unclassified GCSE grades and Creamfields did similar, but with woeful BTEC marks. London did have SW4, but at £65 for a day ticket, those with any common sense voted in favour of pottering down to Notting Hill. I was one of them.

As a middle class white male I realise I’m in the minority here. Europe’s biggest street party is not meant for me; it’s for the Afro-Caribbean communities to celebrate their culture and dates back fifty odd years ago now. The closest I come to the Jamaican flags draped around the streets is occasionally listening to Bob Marley and showing a vague interest in how fast Usain Bolt can run. This isn’t to say that people from different backgrounds can’t embrace the carnival; festival goers travel from all over the world to attend, and London, who bucked the EU referendum trend, prides itself on its rich multi-culturalism. Political matters aside, Notting Hill Carnival is usually a successful celebration, other than the arrests which continue to tot up; this year over 150 were made and four stabbings occurred. These shouldn’t be overlooked, but also shouldn’t mar the party.

I unfortunately am quite the cynic so when it comes to festivities often rack my brain for ways to overcome any impracticalities, and at Notting Hill there are many. First things first if you live anywhere near a stone’s throw away, do your research before taking the tube in. Each station situated around the area seemed to be doing their own rendition of the hokey cokey, only letting you go in or out on their accord. By the time I caught the right train I stuck out like a sore thumb; my sober face still intact whilst glittering gurning faces ogled at me. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t sugar they’d had on their cornflakes for breakfast. As I surface at Westbourne Park station there gathered a crowd of police officers covering all angles but what they make up in force they lack in helpfulness. When asking one for directions he said in a thick Somerset accent: “Don’t know mate, only just got here meself”. Probably a left over from Glastonbury. Who am I to judge though, knowing the A-Z map of reggae stages is not at the top of their agenda; they’re here to enjoy themselves too, twerking with members of the crowd and miming the words to Drake.

Just gone noon is a ripe time to enter the environment, as tipsy revellers begin to gather around street parties and houses open for business – toilet business. Residents lure weak bladders into their lavatories for a small charge, sparing you of the moment you use one of the empty pineapples on the road as a make shift urinal. It adds to the community spirit, the DIY aesthetic and all round good natured atmosphere. Some guy’s selling Red Stripe out of a bin and there’s students dancing on the roof tops but I can’t help but feel sorry for some of the neighbours trying to enjoy Antiques Roadshow, as teens coat their doorsteps with Frosty Jacks.

It’s 4pm by the time my own friends make it in and we’re stumbling over sticky confetti mush to find a DJ you don’t have to listen to from around the block. I don’t really know what the music is anyway. I was told Craig David was going to be here but apparently that’s tomorrow – another lapse in our plans. Now it’s 6pm and we’re finally walking towards Notting Hill itself. As we reach the periphery we literally watch the last carnival float go past and waddle after it before releasing we’ve missed it. Cue more drinks outside the portaloos and a sing-a-long with a maraca wielding Rasta and we’ve pretty much exhausted Notting Hill Carnival without feeling like it’s even begun yet.

A muddy festival field will give you just what you want; good music in a confined space but at extortionate prices where you can only sneak a couple of tinnies into your wellies. Notting Hill Carnival is a much freer haven which has a BYOB and do a cheeky balloon whilst your mate gets jiggy with PC Plod kind of vibe to it. Just make sure you cut the pre-drinks at 10am and one of you knows the local area so you can grab a good spot to skank.


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Photography by harrycartwright.co.uk.

Words by Josh Shreeve

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